Geographically, there are voting districts, taxing districts, and school districts. There are also subdistricts. I have found different spellings of this word (subdistrict, sub district, sub-district). Which one is correct for the USA?

  • I feel a dictionary would be a more efficient way to answer this. Sub-district Mar 7, 2012 at 19:59
  • Actually, Dictionary.com's definition is under the entry subdistrict. It eliminated your hyphen to find the entry you linked.
    – Daniel
    Mar 7, 2012 at 20:09
  • @Danielδ - I must have misspelled it the first time - it asked me if I meant sub-district. Mar 7, 2012 at 20:41
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    Voting to reopen. Dictionaries do not agree, and some don't even have the word. British English and American English appear to differ, to which COCA and BNC and some dictionaries bear witness. Common usage certainly differs, to the point at which @MattЭллен was closing the question since sub-district was obviously correct, and tchrist was downvoting the answer because subdistrict was obviously correct.
    – Daniel
    Mar 7, 2012 at 21:58
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    I agree with you @Danielδ Mar 7, 2012 at 22:10

1 Answer 1


Since sub is a prefix, it must be connected to the word, at least by a hyphen. So sub district is out. Ngrams depicts a pretty consistent fight between the two other forms:

COCA tells us that in its American literature corpus there are 24 instances of subdistrict versus 18 of sub-district. BNC (the British corpus) has no matches for subdistrict, but 9 for sub-district. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster have their entries without a hyphen (subdistrict). The OALD, significantly, does not have an entry for subdistrict.

In this case, neither is incorrect in America, though subdistrict appears to be slightly preferred. As tchrist comments below, a good American rule of thumb is that productive prefixes such as un-, non-, sub-, etc, should not take hyphens. However, in British English, subdistrict appears to be rare (if not incorrect). For further information on hyphenating, see this post:

For the most part, compound words that are created by adding a prefix are not hyphenated.

Disclaimer regarding Ngram chart: see this meta post for important info on this internet resource.

  • This is yet another case where Ngrams is useless. You have to check with your publisher. For example, O’Reilly is quite vehement that the sub- prefix not take a hyphen unless prefixing a proper noun. Similarly with non-, multi-, and pseudo-. None of those should be taking a written hyphen. The general rule of thumb is that productive prefixes should not take hyphens.
    – tchrist
    Mar 7, 2012 at 20:42
  • @tchrist I disagree that Ngrams is useless, but your point that it varies from publisher to publisher is a good one. If you're writing for a certain purpose, check with your publisher/mentor/boss before deciding on a spelling. Dictionaries, Ngrams, and other corpus analyzers come second.
    – Daniel
    Mar 7, 2012 at 20:46
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    I am not drawing on the Ngram as a proof. I've included other sources, and even then I have not called my answer a proof. I've even included a disclaimer for the Ngram.
    – Daniel
    Mar 7, 2012 at 20:56
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    @tchrist: You can’t crowdsource style? - of course you can! In the final analysis, any usage adopted by the majority for long enough de facto eventually becomes "correct". I suspect what you actually mean is that during a transition phase, something you might define as "good style" (for historical or other reasons) could actually be a minority usage. But in the fullness of time, later generations will probably just call it obsolete/archaic. Mar 7, 2012 at 22:10
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    Thank you for your interest in my question and for entertaining me with your arguments! I am surprised by your quick responses and will recommend this site to my colleagues.
    – Brenda
    Mar 8, 2012 at 13:20

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